March 30

Flexible Seating in an Industrialized World

The sun danced through the windows of my sun porch as I enjoyed the first few days of spring break.  Determined to not let a serious head cold get me down, I would use the time to catch up on my reading and do a little research related to the changing learning space that sits in disarray a few miles away. Ken Robinson speaks so eloquently, perhaps it is his accent, about the industrialized nature of school systems.  Flash back to Pink Floyd and their haunting video of British school children pushed down an assembly line to the meat grinder.  This image plays over and over again in my head as I listen to Robinson talking about the state of our current schools.  Our society, our economy, and our students are no longer working towards industrialized, factory jobs.  As educators, we must realize that industrialized schooling is not what our students need and, if we continue to teach this way, we will contribute to the failing system at large.

There is a revolution brewing and churning.  A revolution fed by social media.  In the not too distant past, the only collaboration we were allowed as educators were to others in our area through meetings and the occasional conference that allowed us to feel a surge of what could be.  Like minded educators that feel the need for change and are fueled by progress and innovation can find one another and create their own personal PD experiences.  This is not just a national event but a global event.  Education is swiftly changing and for those who have not found the superhighway, time changes at the speed of light.

A mere six months ago I was the queen of my castle.  Desks were aligned into groups and lessons proceeded in my arena.  I will admit that I have always thought that anything that happens in my classroom should be an experience worthy of Disney.  Changing this idea into a truly collaborative experience for students is a whole other idea, however.  I wasn’t building a theatre on the Vegas strip for students to come see my shows six periods a day.  I wanted a learning studio that felt like home, a place where what they valued and wanted to learn about was just as important, if not more, than what I needed to teach them.  They needed to leave me with a  passion for learning and exploring and the knowledge of an amazing world.

Where to start?  I needed to learn…a lot.  Enter two incredible books.  PLEASE buy them, read them, and then read them gain. Teach Like a  Pirate by Dave Burgess and What Connected Educators Do Differently by Todd Whitaker, Jeff Zoul and Jimmy Casas.  While you are at it, I recommend the entire Pirate series.  There really is not a bad book in the bunch. My personal favorite is Explore Like a Pirate by Michael Matera, especially if you are into gamification.  After a considerable amount of reading, pondering, reading some more, and rethinking my role as an educator, there were changes that need to be made in my room.  My students have begun to call themselves “the Beta-Testers”.  I greatly appreciate their willingness to go along with me as I attempt to figure out the best possible environment for learning.

The first step is flexible seating.  Much of my time off, thus far, has been spent reading research and learning about other teachers who have incorporated flexible seating into their classrooms.  What I have found is summarized in my sketch note.

The artifacts of a dated system still populate my room like dinosaur bones on a dry desert plain.  My teacher desk, three file cabinets,  fifteen science lab tables and coordinating chairs.  Just freeing up my “teacher corner” will bring so much space into my small room.  After much consideration and research, there will be areas or learning pods in the classroom.  A living room, a cafe, a library, a studio, an idea lab, and a board room will be the new learning pods.  Where will the new furniture come from?  Currently I have a Donor’s Choose project posted and already have it partially funded! Next step, visit the local auction houses for great deals.  Through this method I have obtained a new couch for $15, a pair of leather captain’s chairs for $30 and several metal (ironically industrial) stools for less than $25. Finally, IKEA will be my last stop this week as the last items are gathered for the room redo.

Originally, I wanted to redo the room over the break and surprise the students upon their return but thought differently when I realized there is real benefit in the student’s creating the space and making it their own.  As I gather the materials I look forward to having student input the first day we return and change our room into a powerful place to learn.

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